Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo on Crushing First Home Run of Season With New Team: ‘To Finally Be Able to Help Out and Get a Couple Runs for Us, It’s Huge’

Going into Wednesday night, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo was without a home run or RBI through his first nine games and 30 plate appearances with his new team.

That all changed against Rays left-hander Ryan Yarbrough in the fourth inning of an eventual 5-0 win for Boston at Tropicana Field to close out a seven-game road trip.

After striking out on eight pitches in his first at-bat against the Rays starter, Verdugo come to the plate for a second time with two outs and a runner on first following a Michael Chavis single.

On the second pitch he saw in his second at-bat against Yarbrough, which was nearly identical to the first’s location, the 24-year-old unloaded on an 0-1, 71 mph curveball at the bottom of the zone and deposited it 352 feet to the right field seats for his first home run of 2020 and his first in a Red Sox uniform. It also gave his side an early two-run lead.

“It felt amazing, man,” Verdugo said of his homer during his postgame media availability. “It’s pretty obvious a lot of us are going through it right now trying to find our swings. There’s a lot of new things in baseball, not being able to see the videos until after the games and all that. Usually, the in-game adjustments have been hard. It felt really good to finally be able to stay on one, to stay through it and get one out.”

Per Statcast, Verdugo’s two-run blast had an Expected Batting Average (xBA) of .220, so it wasn’t exactly barreled, per se, but it was still encouraging to see him make relatively hard contact nonetheless. His manager, Ron Roenicke felt that way as well.

“He was pretty happy, I’ll tell you that, when he came to the dugout,” said the Sox skipper. “It was huge. At the time, it was huge. I thought Yarbrough was throwing the ball fantastic and the next thing you know, we’ve got two runs on the board. The players know it, they feel what’s going on. To get that lead, I’m sure Dugie felt pretty good about that.”

Indeed, Verdugo did feel pretty good about getting his first one out of here since coming over from the Dodgers in February. More importantly, he was happy it contributed to a victory.

“I think the biggest thing for me was just to help the team out,” Verdugo said. “It was a tie game, so just to get up there and give us a 2-0 lead, give the pitcher and everybody a little breath. Like, ‘Hey, alright, we’ve got some room to work.’ That was my biggest part. I came here to contribute. I’ve played the game hard and I want to contribute in everything that I do. To finally be able to help out and get a couple runs for us, it’s huge.”

Following Wednesday’s impressive performance, Verdugo is showing why he should be starting more against left-handed starters, especially when the likes of Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. are mired in slumps.

While with Los Angeles for parts of the previous three seasons, the left-handed hitting Arizona native slashed .306/.333/.452 slash line in 133 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, earning the reputation of being a “reverse splits” guy.

Thus far with the Red Sox, Verdugo now owns an OPS of 1.009 through his first 16 plate appearances against southpaws this year, again proving that he should be playing more. Even still, the outfielder understands that finding playing time for everyone is no easy task.

“I always mess around with that,” Verdugo said with a smile. “When I’m not in there against a lefty, I’m like, ‘Hey, Ron, just so you know, man, I can hit ‘em.’ I think he knows it, too. I think he also knows when players are pressing. He’s doing his job, he’s doing what he has to do. I take a lot of pride against lefties.”

Also, it’s probably about time Verdugo moves up in the lineup, too. Just a thought.

 

Red Sox Lineup: Jose Peraza Gets First Start of Season in Left Field in Series Finale Against Rays

After stranding the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Rays on Tuesday, the Red Sox will look to wrap up their first road-trip of the season with a bounce-back win in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Left-hander Martin Perez will be making his third start of the year for Boston as he is coming off his first victory in a Red Sox uniform in his last time out against the Mets.

In five career outings (four starts) at Tropicana Field, the 29-year-old Perez owns a lifetime 8.39 ERA and .927 OPS against the Rays over 24 2/3 total innings of work.

Here is how the rest of the Red Sox will be lining up behind Perez and against Rays’ starter Ryan Yarbrough on Wednesday night:

Among the nine hitters in Boston’s lineup, J.D. Martinez has by far seen Yarbrough the best, as the 33-year-old owns a lifetime .636/.667/1.182 slash line in 11 career at-bats against the Rays southpaw.

Also worth noting here, Jose Peraza will be making his first start in left field with the Red Sox, a position he played 33 times while a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

With Peraza manning left field in this one, Andrew Benintendi will start the night on the bench, while the left-handed bats of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mitch Moreland will also sit with a left-hander on the mound for Tampa Bay.

First pitch Thursday is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox going for win No. 4 in game No. 12.

Nathan Eovaldi the Latest Victim of Tropicana Field’s Catwalks as Red Sox Fall to Rays to Mark Fourth Straight Loss

In a match-up featuring two American League East clubs riding lengthy losing streaks, the Red Sox fell to the Rays on Tuesday, dropping their fourth consecutive contest while Tampa Bay broke out of a five-game skid.

Nathan Eovaldi made his third start of the season for Boston to kick off this quick two-game set, and he was moving right along, retiring 11 of the first 13 hitters he faced before running into a bit of trouble in the latter stages of the fourth.

There, with two outs, the right-hander appeared to strike out Yoshi Tstutsugo on a 3-2, 96 MPH heater on the inner half of the plate that was not swung at. Instead, home plate umpire Randy Rosenberg ruled the pitch a ball, and the Rays third baseman took his base.

Perhaps that missed call irked Eovaldi a bit, because in the very next at-bat, he served up a line-drive single to Joey Wendle to put runners at second and first. That brought Hunter Renfroe to the plate, and the Rays outfielder proceeded to poke a pop fly to foul territory on the third base side that likely would have been caught by Rafael Devers in just about any other major-league ballpark. Instead, Renfroe’s fly ball made contact with one of the catwalks that line Tropicana Field’s roof, and it was ruled a foul ball.

Given another chance with a runner in scoring position, Renfore took full advantage just moments after the ruling, as he laced a two-run double to give his side a 2-1 lead.

 

Eovaldi did manage to escape the fourth without giving anything else up after that bizarre sequence, but the bottom of the fifth did not treat him much better seeing how Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe both drove in another pair of Rays runs to make it a 4-1 contest before the Sox starter put an end to things in what would be his final inning of work.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 85 (54 strikes) while striking out six, walking one, and plunking another, Eovaldi relied on his vaunted four-seam fastball more than 54% of the time he was on the mound Tuesday, inducing six swings-and-misses and topping out at 98.5 mph with the pitch.

Hit with his first losing decision while seeing his ERA on the year rise to 3.94, the 30-year-old hurler will get the chance to bounce back this Sunday against the Blue Jays back at Fenway Park.

In relief of Eovaldi, Phillips Valdez got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen in the middle of the sixth, and he was only able to record the first two outs of the inning while putting two runners on before getting the hook in favor of left-hander Josh Osich.

Osich, making his fifth appearance of the season, fanned Rays catcher Michael Perez on five pitches to retire the side in the sixth. He also recorded the first out of the seventh before yielding a single to Lowe, which resulted in Ryan Brasier entering this contest/

Brasier, on for his third appearance of 2020, allowed a single to the first man he faced in Yandy Diaz, which allowed Lowe to advance to third and subsequently score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ji-Man Choi. The Rays went up 5-1 on that sequence.

From there, southpaw Jeffrey Springs gave up some loud outs in a perfect eighth inning of work to keep the deficit at four runs, although it didn’t matter in the end since the Red Sox fell in this one by a final score of 5-1 anyway.

On the flip side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against a familiar opponent in Rays veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, who had somewhat struggled through his first two outings of the new season.

That was not the case for Morton on Tuesday though, as the only run Boston got off the 36-year-old hurler came on a Mitch Moreland solo homer with one out in the second inning.

 

Per Statcast, Moreland’s third long ball of the 2020 campaign had an exit velocity of 96 mph and traveled 368 feet off the bat to the empty seats in right field. It also gave the Sox an early 1-0 lead.

An inning later, it appeared as though Boston was going to add on to that lead against Morton, as Jose Peraza led the frame off with a line-drive single and three batters later, J.D. Martinez ripped a double down the left field line that easily would have scored the runner from first had it not hopped over the fence.

Instead, Martinez settled for a ground-rule double, and Xander Bogaerts flew out to center to strand the two runners in scoring position.

Morton sat down eight of the next nine Red Sox hitters who came to the plate beginning in the fourth, and had the Rays known Michael Chavis was going to pinch-hit for Moreland beforehand, they likely would have kept the righty out there for one more batter.

Rather than that happening though, Tampa Bay brought in left-handed reliever Aaron Loup, and Sox manager Ron Roenicke countered by swapping Moreland for Chavis, who proceeded to ground out to short to put an end to the inning.

Fast forward to their last chance to push across anything in the ninth, and with one out and the bases loaded, Boston’s lineup was about to turn over once more as the Rays dispatched their closer Nick Anderson.

Anderson, a 29-year-old right-hander, is about as nasty as they come, and he showed that on Tuesday by first striking Peraza out looking on six pitches, and then doing the same with Andrew Benintendi in five.

Just like that, a golden opportunity for the Red Sox to claw back late in this one had gone for naught, and 5-1 would go on to be Tuesday’s final score.

Some notes and observations from this loss:

From MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo:

 

 

From The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham:

 

The Red Sox went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday. They left nine men on base as a team.

In positive news, J.D. Martinez went 2-for-4 with two hard-hit doubles off Charlie Morton, so perhaps he has found his swing once again.

Also, Jackie Bradley Jr. was at it again in center field.

 

Next up for the Red Sox, it’s the finale of this quick two-game set against the Rays on Wednesday evening.

Left-hander Martin Perez will toe the rubber for Boston, while fellow lefty Ryan Yarbrough will do the same for Tampa Bay.

Perez is coming off his best outing in a Red Sox uniform thus far, working 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball against the Mets in a winning effort last Thursday. The 29-year-old owns a lifetime 8.39 ERA in five career appearances (four starts) and 24 2/3 innings pitched at Tropicana Field.

Yarbrough, meanwhile, has got his 2020 season off to a hot start as he has allowed just two runs through his first two starts and 11 2/3 innings of work this year. The 28-year-old out of Old Dominion University has appeared in nine career games against the Red Sox, three of which have been starts. In total, he owns a lifetime 4.84 ERA when pitching against Boston.

First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox looking to snap a four-game skid.

Red Sox Lineup: Andrew Benintendi Back in Leadoff Spot for Series Opener Against Rays

After their first off day of the season on Monday, the Red Sox will look to end their seven-game road trip on a high note in Tampa Bay.

Facing off against the 4-6 Rays, losers of five straight, for the first of two at Tropicana Field, the 3-7 Red Sox, losers of three straight, will send right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to the mound on Tuesday night.

Through his first two starts of 2020, Eovaldi owns an ERA of 2.45, a WHIP of 1.36, and a FIP of 3.59 over 11 innings of work. The Red Sox are thus far unbeaten when the 30-year-old has taken the mound this season.

In his career at the Trop, the one-time Rays hurler has surrendered 24 runs (23 earned) over nine outings (eight starts) and 47 total innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 4.40.

Here’s how the rest of the Red Sox will be lining up behind Eovaldi, as they’ll be matched up against a familiar foe in Rays veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, who owns a lifetime 4.09 ERA in nine career starts against Boston:

Among the nine hitters in Tuesday’s lineup, Xander Bogaerts has by far seen Morton the best, as he owns a career .385/.407/.615 slash line in 26 career at-bats against the Rays’ starter.

Also worth noting, Andrew Benintendi is batting leadoff and starting in left field, Alex Verdugo is back in the lineup, hitting seventh, and starting in right field, and Mitch Moreland is hitting fifth and starting at first base.

I may be a bit concerned about Verdugo’s back seeing how the Rays play on artificial turf inside a dome, but maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, first pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox looking for win No. 4 in game No. 11.

Rays Granted Permission by Major League Baseball to ‘Explore Possibility’ of Playing Split-Season Between Tampa Bay and Montreal

Per ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan, the Tampa Bay Rays have been granted permission from Major League Baseball’s executive council to look into playing their home games at two different venues in the same season. The plan would involve earlier home games taking place in the Tampa Bay area before the rest are played in Montreal, Canada.

Major League Baseball confirmed this news in a tweet earlier Thursday.

The specific number of games played in each city has yet to be determined, Passan notes, but new stadiums would be built in both Tampa Bay and Montreal.

The Rays’ current lease with Tropicana Field runs through the 2027 season. Back in December, at the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas, principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced that plans to build a new ballpark in the neighboring Ybor City would not be finalized, meaning that aforementioned lease would seemingly run its course.

But, with this most recent announcement, it appears that the Rays’ brass believes that a two-city approach is the best way to preserve Major League Baseball in that part of Florida.

As things stand right now, Tampa Bay, despite sporting the fourth-best record in the American League at 43-31, are pulling in an average of 14,545 people per home game, the second-worst attendance mark in all of baseball.

The team’s 2019 Opening Day payroll of just over $62 million was one of the lowest among the 30 clubs as well.

The idea of bringing baseball back to Quebec has long been there, that much is clear with how a pair of exhibition games hosted by the Toronto Blue Jays has been played at Olympic Stadium since 2014.

Last homing a Major League Baseball team in 2004, before the Expos were relocated to Washington, D.C., Montreal has been clamoring to get the sport back on a full-time basis.

Although that does not seem to be the case at the moment, it will be interesting to see how these discussions pan out and when they will come into effect. Stadiums take a decent amount of time to build, so I can’t imagine the Rays will be playing any of their home games outside of the Trop anytime soon.

 

RECAP: #RedSox Kick off the New Season by Embarassing Themselves in Tampa Bay.

It may be early, but man, did this one hurt. In their first matchup of the season, the Red Sox outplayed the Tampa Bay Rays for approximately 7.5 innings and they found a way to lose. Embarrasing stuff to say the least.

Chris Sale made his first Opening Day start in a Red Sox uniform and he was as impressive as ever. The southpaw allowed only four baserunners to reach over six innings while striking out nine. Out of those four to reach, only one was via a hit, the rest all reached on walks. This was an important start for Sale. Remember, in his last spring training start on Saturday, Sale took a line drive off the hip in the first inning of that game. He said he was going to be good to go for today and it was reassuring to see him out there performing at a high level. Perhaps that line drive off the hip was why Sale only tossed six innings today. He was at 92 pitches by the time he got out of the sixth, so they could just be preserving him for later in the season as well. Either way, it was a positive first step into the 2018 season for the Red Sox ace, it’s just too bad his team couldn’t give him the win he deserved.

With Sale’s day ending after six innings, Matt Barnes got the ball for his first appearance of the season in the bottom half of the seventh. He too got his season off to a good start, as the Connecticut native retired the side while only needing 13 pitches to do so. It was after Barnes where things got away from the Red Sox.

Joe Kelly came out to start the eighth, and he was wildly inaccurate. Facing five batters, Kelly allowed three of them to reach via walks while recording only one out before getting yanked. In that span, the Rays managed to score once to make it a 4-1 game. New manager Alex Cora went to Carson Smith next, and he was not much better than Kelly. Entering with the bases loaded, Smith walked the first batter he saw to make it a 4-2 game. After striking out Wilson Ramos for the second out of the inning, Denard Span got the best of Smith and unloaded the bases on a triple to right field, putting the Rays on top 5-4. The very next batter, Adeiny Hechavarria, scored Span from third on an infield single to give the Rays some insurance. The disaster of an eighth inning finally ended when Smith got Joey Wendle to strike out, thus ending a humiliating day for the Red Sox bullpen.

Offensively, the lineup did not need to do much with Chris Sale on the mound. Four runs seemed like more than enough to get the Red Sox a win. Unfortunately, that’s not how things went. The top of the lineup was nowhere to be found, really. Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Hanley Ramirez, and JD Martinez combined to go 1-for-11 at the plate with two walks and zero RBIs. In fact, all four runs the Red Sox scored came off the bat of either Rafael Devers or Eduardo Nunez. Devers got the Red Sox on the board in the second inning thanks to an RBI ground out, allowing JD Martinez to score from third. The very next batter in the inning, Eduardo Nunez, followed that up by hitting an inside the park home run. Yes, an inside the park home run. Check it out:

Like the tweet says, not how you draw up the first home run of 2018, but we’ll take it. That put the Red Sox up 3-0 at the time, and they didn’t score again until the seventh inning. Xander Bogaerts led the inning off with a double off of Austin Pruitt, and Rafael Devers drove him in on a double of his own a few minutes later. Bogaerts himself had a solid day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. That looked like that was all the Red Sox were going to need to pick up their first win of the season. It’s too bad the bullpen melted down, because that was a fun game to watch up until the bottom of the eighth inning.

David Price will look to even up the series tomorrow, as the lefty makes his first start in a regular season game since July 22nd of last year. He will be matched up against Blake Snell of the Rays, another lefty. First pitch is at 7:10 PM.